The latest in a string of offbeat hits from Marvel, Howard The Duck relaunches this week by writer Chip Zdarsky, artist Joe Quinones and colorist Rico Renzi. As much as this is the ground floor of something new and exciting, there’s achievement in the undertaking simply on a profound “balls to dust this off” level. Cementing itself to the epicenter of the Marvel Universe whether anybody asked it to or not, the debut issue is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and wildly accessible entertainment.
For a character undeservedly maligned for the better part of thirty years, Howard’s an intriguingly hot commodity these days. A lot of that is undoubtedly due to his Seth Green-voiced cameo during the post-credits scene of Guardians of the Galaxy last summer, triggering chatter from across the board. Mainly that’s categorized into: older fans reviling buried memories of George Lucas’s post-Star Wars 80s big screen floptacular, even older fans waxing nostalgic for the original Bronze Age heyday of creator Steve Gerber and younger fans who all shrugged “what’s up with the alcoholic talking duck?”. Regardless of the demographic, it sent a message: Marvel’s taking back the streets on the Duck’s rep and this book is utter testament to that notion.
Helming the creative end of things is writer Chip Zdarsky. Currently riding high as the art half of Matt Fraction’s runaway hit, Sex Criminals, this issue marks Zdarsky’s first full writing credit for Marvel. While decidedly less advisory label-inducing than his other work, the multi-disciplined auteur tones down for the mainstream yet manages to keep it smart and adult.
Possessing a background as a veteran Canadian newspaper columnist, Zdarsky displays a journalistic propensity for cutting right to the nuts and bolts. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read hundreds of Marvel comics or just one, these are the Marvel characters and their interactions. What’s on the page is all you need. Howard included. The thoughts contained in a scanned moleskine on his personal site aside, this guy thoroughly gets these characters- smaller moments and all. It’d be interesting to see him take an involved crack at any of them.
In fact, old school charm permeates the entire affair. And it’s not just that it’s about a character popular forty years ago (or the frequent winky reliance on guest stars), it’s that Howard, himself, is so damn retro-facing. From his Mad Men-esque attire to his archaically endearing/ modernly offensive speech mannerisms, Howard is as unapologetically iconoclastic as he is anachronistic. Seemingly no longer content to be “trapped in a world he didn’t create”, Howard’s 21st Century re-invention is a whole different sort of social commentary. The pseudo-pulp era private detective angle is a nice touch and also delightfully reminiscent of Fraction’s whole Kate Bishop as Jim Rockford schtick in Hawkeye.
Also marking a creator first is artist Joe Quinones. A consistent talent, Quinones has twice as many covers as interior credits to his name with this being his first monthly ongoing Marvel gig. His cover style always seems more statuesque and Frank Cho pose-y but his layout sensibilities speak instead of Marcos Martin and Javier Pulido with just a hint of Phil Hester’s jaggedness. From the full page “training montage” to the jump-cut of the botched pizza delivery b&e, Quinones works hand-in-glove and positively nails all of Zdarsky’s humor-laden beats.
Color artist Rico Renzi also changes up the super-bright and cheery palette he normally uses for the equally tongue-in-cheek Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl to a muddied up and muted scheme better reflecting the blurred sophistication of the “grown up world”. Sure, most of the comic takes place during evening hours but even the day shots have a haze about them like they spent the night in lock-up.
Howard the Duck’s unlikely comeback is already one of the success stories of 2015. Although just as vitally in the thick of it, this book is the refreshing alternative to all of the heavy quantum-level shenanigans going on elsewhere.
At it’s core, it’s still about a Golden Age-type “Funny Animals” character run through the underground comix lens of Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat acting as stranger in a strange land, callings ‘em likes he’s seeing’s thems. No apocalyptic scenario could ever change that. Given that logline, this could actually be perfect hop on for Secret Wars!